Data Crabs

An essay by Hester Ninetrees, as provided by Deborah Walker
Art by Leigh Legler

I hadn’t mentioned my approaching birthday to my children. I guess I was in denial. So it must have been a shock when the police turned up at our home. They both tuned out of the data stream immediately.

“Mum, what’s happening?” asked Dinah. Dinah … I wonder if she misses me.

I didn’t know what to say. So I just said it. “I’m fifty today.”

“No!” Dinah collapsed onto the settee.

Pete’s reaction was slower. He’s already showing signs of the brain deterioration that took his father. Pete would not embarrass his children by living too long.

“No … Ma …”

I patted him on the cheek. “It’s okay, Pete. Don’t you worry about it. You go back to your show.”

“Come along ma’am,” said one of the officers. They both looked embarrassed. It was an unpleasant duty for them.

I reached for my handbag. I looked at Dinah and Pete. They’d be okay without me. The house would run smoothly, the food would arrive, the machines would keep the rooms nice and clean. A thought occurred to me, “Will there be data streams under the sea?”

“Of course, ma’am.”

That was a relief. I’d been watching Sunrise Palace for fifty years. I wouldn’t want to miss an episode.


We bathe in artificial light in the Aqua Institution. The walls are thick, made of dense, strange metal. Trevor Bimble says the machines mine the metal from asteroids. No Earth-found compound could withstand the enormous pressure down here. The underwater currents knock against the walls of our home. I worried at first that it wasn’t safe, but after a month I got used to it. You get used to everything, eventually.

I’m expected to work down here. Work! Me! It’s all very strange.

We’re allowed four hours a day of data stream, so I can still watch Sunrise Palace, but only in the attenuated version. A punishment, I guess, for growing old or for being mad.

I work in the factory. The people who are like me, the old ones, cluster together. This is a facility for the insane and for the old. I never expected to be here. I never expected to pass my fiftieth birthday. Who does? Maybe only one person in a hundred thousand, certainly nobody in my family had ever done such a careless thing.

Mickey, who’s fifty-five, works beside me. He’s been certified sane, but I’m not so sure. There’s something about the light here, working constantly under fluorescent lighting that might drive a person mad.

Mickey keeps up a monologue while we work, “I shouldn’t be here. Out of sight out of mind. The other people don’t want to see us. We’re a waste of space. We make everyone uncomfortable. So, they send us out here, under the sea. Make us live in these metallic snow globes. Like we don’t deserve to feel the sunshine. Natural light is not a right, it’s a privilege, and it’s slipped out of our fingers. We’re the fluorescent people. We deserve it, but every now and again the machines make a mistake. I’m not mad, you know, Hester.”

“No,” I say patiently. “You’re not mad, Mickey. You’re just old, like me.”

I wonder what my children are doing. Are they working for my release? Are they petitioning the government for an exception? I don’t know what grounds they’d give. I was never exceptional. I just did what everyone else did: had children and enjoyed myself watching Sunrise Palace. I think that Dinah will be trying. Poor Pete wouldn’t be able to manage anything like that.

A stream of data activates my computer screen. I work on input analysis. There’s so much data to be collated. It’s surprising how much actual human input is needed to refine and interpret the data. I’d always assumed that the machines did everything. I didn’t realise that data was refined by the mad and the old here under the sea. Live and learn, eh?

Data Crabs

Mickey keeps up a monologue while we work, “I shouldn’t be here. Out of sight out of mind. The other people don’t want to see us. We’re a waste of space. We make everyone uncomfortable. So, they send us out here, under the sea. Make us live in these metallic snow globes. Like we don’t deserve to feel the sunshine. Natural light is not a right, it’s a privilege, and it’s slipped out of our fingers. We’re the fluorescent people. We deserve it, but every now and again the machines make a mistake. I’m not mad, you know, Hester.”

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2014 collection.

Hester Ninetrees led an exemplary life, until her unfortunate fiftieth birthday when she was relocated to the thirty-third Aqua Institution. Following her erroneous release, Mrs Ninetrees travelled through all seventeen districts, leaving in her wake a trail of civil disobedience. Her crimes have been judged. Machine Direction alpha-red dictates Hester Ninetrees be subject to capture with extreme prejudice. Machine Direction alpha-red-chi dictates that her body be delivered to the Human Neural Institute for examination. Order will be restored.

Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: Her stories have appeared in Nature’s Futures, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, and The Year’s Best SF 18.

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at

This story originally appeared in M-Brane #15 in 2010.

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Sport of Kings

An essay by Rick King, as provided by Judith Field
Art by Luke Spooner

I woke up, rolled over and collided with something solid. Stretching out a shaking hand, I opened my eyes. I was facing the oak tree in the front garden. Rainwater dripped onto me from the branches. A moment of calm, then images of the night before tried to shove their feet in the doorway of my memory. I groaned, and tried to get up.

Francine, my fiancée, stuck her head out of the bedroom window, her mouth pursed up like a cat’s backside. She was saying something I couldn’t hear, all I could lipread was my name, Rick. Touching my ear, I looked up at her and shrugged my shoulders: no hearing aid. I clenched my right fist and rubbed it in a circle on my upper chest: “Sorry.” Francine didn’t understand sign language but it couldn’t do any harm. Bit like praying, really.

I’d only recently got this new hearing aid, and it wouldn’t stay in properly whatever I did. In these days of health cuts, would they give me another? The best cost thousands, if you went private. I’d been paid last week but was still overdrawn. And only another £500 to spend on the credit card.

Francine tiptoed round the puddles. I lip-read “pissed,” “knob head” (she had her own sign for that), and “AGAIN.” I turned away. She walked round till she was facing me.

Billy’s stag night. You’d better not act like that on yours. And I suppose you didn’t hear all that thunder. Silly bugger, picking the most dangerous place to lie, under a tree. Why didn’t you come in?”

“I couldn’t find the keyhole.” I could just about hear my own voice, sounding as though it came from the other side of the house, via socks stuffed in my ears. “Stop shouting–it’s impossible to lip-read. Shut up and let me get some sleep. See you tomorrow. Unless I die first, please God.” I staggered into the house. Then I remembered.  “Jeez, I can’t even do that,” I said, shaking off Francine’s hand clutching at my arm. “I’ll have to see if the hospital will give me another aid, spin them some sob story.”

“Oh no, not today,” Francine said. “Tomorrow you can go and get an ear trumpet for all I care, but in half an hour you and I are off to Aintree. It’s the Grand National, and I bust a gut getting these tickets. Remember?”

I held my head and groaned.

“Get out of those wet things, have a shower, put on something smart,” Francine said. “I’ll see if I can find your hearing aid in the garden. Hurry up, the cab’ll be here soon.”

I pulled random items of clothing out of the wardrobe onto the floor, looking for something that complied with the “no dress code but smart is preferable” nonsense on the Aintree website. Francine’s fancy hat was on the bed, “showcasing her favourite race day outfit” (website again). Someone should tell her it made a short girl look like a hallucinogenic mushroom. Someone.

Francine came in, holding out her hand. “It was in a puddle by the tree. Hope it never got struck by lightning.  Have to let it dry naturally, like that mobile phone you dropped down the bog. Maybe we should stick it in some rice.”

“No time–I want to be able to hear the racing commentary. You know how it is–the horses go past in a whoosh,” I swept my arm round, the sudden movement making me stagger, “then you don’t see them till the end.” I wiped the aid on my sleeve then inserted it, poking the soft dome on the end of the tube as far inside as it would go. It made me cough. It’d be a miracle if it worked.

“WELL?” Francine asked.

“It’s OK, stop shouting.”

“Great, maybe it’s our lucky day.” She shoved the hat onto the back of her head so that it looked like a halo and went downstairs.

Sport of Kings

So the aid’s picking up a radio play that just happens to have characters with the same name as these horses, I thought, and who just happen to be talking about racing.
The other spectators were either silent, or discussing the horses. Hearing voices was a sign of madness, I told myself. Francine wouldn’t want to know me if I’d lost my marbles. She’d find someone else. I shuddered, trying desperately to think of another explanation.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2014 collection.

Following the honeymoon of a lifetime on a private island in the Indian Ocean, Rick King, aged 25, lives with his wife, Francine, 23, in a five bedroomed house in an acre of its own grounds. He recently came into a lot of money. He says it was the lottery, but the week he suddenly started spending, the papers say the jackpot winner lived in another part of the country. If you ask him how he suddenly came up in the world, he makes like he can’t hear you.

Judith Field was born in Liverpool, England and lives in London. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee.

Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications in the USA and UK. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them. She is also a pharmacist, freelance journalist, editor, medical writer, and indexer. She blogs at

Luke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at

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Apocalypse Willowherb

Letters by Jacob Monroe Grant, as provided by Alter S. Reiss
Art by Dawn Vogel

The HMS Courser,
Latitude 13, 22″ S Longitude 157, 6″ W (approx.)
January 7th, 1827

My dearest friend William,

One might expect that after these long months at sea, my arrival at Toreipi would be an occasion of unmitigated joy, but instead, it is all I can do to keep from wailing and groaning and gnashing my teeth. You are no doubt familiar with the native legends concerning the regular depredations of great monsters from the depths of the seas. Naturally, these were discounted as pagan superstition, but it seems that we missed an attack of this sort by fewer than two days. Would that we had not tarried at the Sandwich Isles, or that the winds had blown a fraction more favorably!

We are anchored three miles from the island–Captain Stirling will not go any closer, for fear of the reefs–and at this distance I cannot say with any certainty if the disaster was volcanic in origin, as seems likely. In any case, the destruction along the southern slope of the island is extensive; there are still fires burning, many with a peculiar greenish glow.

This is to be the last of my letters from aboard the Courser. I have grown attached to the stout little ship during my time aboard, but at long last, my real work is to begin. Both I and the Reverend Cartwright are to be put ashore in one of the ship’s boats. He, to spread the word of God to the heathen, and I, to attempt a catalog of the flora and fauna of this distant and virtually unknown land. I will leave it to posterity to determine which of us is engaged in the worthier endeavor.

Your devoted friend and obedient servant,



The Isle of Toreipi,
Latitude 13, 22″ S Longitude 157, 6″ W (approx.)
March 12, 1827

My dearest friend William,

My apologies for the delay of this letter; there are few ships indeed who stop by this island, on account of the reefs, and I scarcely had any wish to entrust my communications to passing Frenchmen or Dutch. I hope this letter justifies my confidence in the Anglo-Saxon values still retained by the captain and crew of the American whaling-ship Rachel, in whose care I have entrusted it.

Investigation of the destruction that we had seen from aboard the ship was necessarily delayed for the better part of a week, as I secured for myself a simple dwelling, with the grudging cooperation of some of the natives. One cannot spend so long a time as I spent with the Reverend Cartwright without forming a solid and unalterable opinion of a man. Despite the change in our circumstance, Cartwright still seems as plodding a fool as ever. All the same, I find myself unquestionably indebted to him in matters regarding the natives.

But a man may build a shack anywhere; I am sure you are more anxious to hear what I think of the sea-monsters of Toreipi. And I do think there are sea-monsters, or at least, some sort of sea-borne phenomena, rather than simple vulcanism. There is no sign of lava flow, nor of the deposition of volcanic ash, and the destruction was concentrated on the lower slopes of the island, near the shoreline. At the moment, my suspicion is that it is a form of St. Elmo’s fire, abnormally concentrated and destructive. There were some prints that the natives imagine to be the traces of the sea-monster, but I am far from convinced that a creature as large as is purported by those traces would be able to stand on land. As the natives swear that attacks of this sort happen but once a century, it seems I will not have a chance to make a proper observation, unless they are mistaken.

Which is not to say that I am without phenomena to observe. As we had surmised, there is enough life on this island to keep a team of naturalists busy until the sea-monster returns. In my first night here, I brought down specimens from two entirely new species of bat, one of whom is clearly a member of the Nyctimones, and the other shares so many characteristics with the Phyllostoma, I cannot help but be irritated at its insistence on having a leaf-nose. To say nothing of the plant life! This island is a treasure trove–an absolute and unspoiled jewel.

One species in particular has excited my interest. In the area denuded by the fires that I have already mentioned, a thick growth of flowers has developed. They are of a bright red color, and make a striking picture in the open space cleared from the jungle. For the moment, I am calling them Epilobium apocalypticus, as they seem closely allied with the willowherbs of our own fair isle.

Given how striking these flowers appear, and their association with destruction, the natives naturally consider them to be tapu. In deference to the local customs, I have confined my observations to hours when the natives are snug in their hammocks, though I fear I may have been observed. No doubt this species will swiftly be supplanted with the more normal jungle flora, and I shall be less tempted to transgress against local custom.

Your devoted friend and obedient servant,


Apocalypse Willowherb

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.

Jacob Monroe Grant is a naturalist from Devon, and an associate member of the Linnean Society of London. He hopes that his work in the islands of the Pacific will be of some benefit to future researchers.

Alter S. Reiss is a field archaeologist and scientific editor whose fiction has appeared in F&SF, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. While he does occasionally do science in real life, it seldom reaches the level of irritable science, let alone mad science.

Dawn Vogel has been published as a short fiction author and an editor of both fiction and non-fiction. Although art is not her strongest suit, she’s happy to contribute occasional art to Mad Scientist Journal. By day, she edits reports for and manages an office of historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business and tries to find time for writing. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. For more of Dawn’s work visit

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Some Updates About MSJ

First, I’d like to share that there’s another way you can support Mad Scientist Journal. I’ve created a Patreon to help support my creative endeavors, particularly  Mad Scientist Journal. Since MSJ requires the most money of the projects I have, I will primarily be using money raised to support the zine. You can check it out here:

Second: as some of you may have noticed, we have closed our submissions. Dawn and I will be responding to the slush we have by the end of the month. We will re-open to submissions on August 1st.

Dawn and I will be spending the month of July focusing on Camp NaNoWriMo. You can follow our progress if you like at our respective profile pages:

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Learning to Walk

An essay by Matthew Grant, as provided by J. J. Green
Art by Leigh Legler

Trace human ancestry back far enough and eventually you’ll encounter a creature that could prick its ears. Why it did this, whether it was prey or predator, we’ll never know for sure. But we know it existed because people today still have the muscle for that movement, and if you know about that muscle, and practice flexing it, you can move your ears independently.

It’s not that hard. But if you didn’t know about that muscle you couldn’t ever do it.

Maybe you already know this.

It’s the same when infants learn to walk. They learn by watching first. If they never saw another human walking, if they didn’t know it was possible, they’d never try, and they’d never learn to walk.

It’s all to do with imagination, being able to think outside the known world, and believing in unknown possibilities. That’s what Daniel was trying to explain to me that day he first talked about his theory.


“T-t-t-t-t …”

“Time travel,” I said. It was his favorite topic.

He gave me a hard look but didn’t say anything. I was his only friend on campus, his only friend ever from what I could make out. I noted the stutter. He didn’t usually do that around me, just everywhere–and I mean everywhere–else.

“Did you know experiments have shown that nerves signal to perform an action before any conscious decision is made?” he said. “The intention shows up in the brain a few milliseconds before we even know what we’re going to do. That’s been known for years now, but it just hit me a few months ago, what that really means.”

I must’ve looked puzzled.

“It isn’t in my control whether I pick up that pen or not. I’ve formed the intention beforehand, before I’m conscious of it. Somewhere deep in our brains we’re acting according to our blueprint of the physical world, without even having to think about it. Our actions are only possible because we believe they’re possible, on a deeper-than-conscious level.”

I was used to this kind of thing from him. Daniel was, put simply, brilliant. You couldn’t spend more than a minute in his company without feeling like a Neanderthal. Which, I guess, is why he didn’t have any friends. That and the fact that being brilliant apparently means that you don’t remember to cut your hair, shave, or even, sometimes, wash. How he ended up at a middle range Bible-belt college, I’ll never know.

“What if the only thing that stops us from being able to travel through time is our disbelief?” he continued. “It’s beyond our experience, so we don’t believe it’s possible. Our deeper consciousness can’t form the intention for the action because it’s entirely outside of its experience and knowledge. But if you could somehow alter your subconscious blueprint of the physical world … What if … what if traveling through time was as easy as a baby taking its first step?”

He paused and looked at me ruminatively.

“Could I have a smoke of that?”

I was surprised. I’d offered plenty of times before, but this was the first he’d shown an interest.

“Sure. This one’s nearly done,” I said, and rolled another joint. “So, what would you do? Where would you go? Rome? The dinosaurs?” I asked. He shook his head.

“I’m more interested in the future. Space travel. We aren’t likely to leave the Solar System in my lifetime. But we will one day, I’m sure of it. If we don’t kill ourselves, that is. All you’d have to do would be to keep stepping forward through time until you hit on the right era …”

Daniel was lost in his thoughts. I waited for him, knowing he wouldn’t hear whatever I had to say anyway.

“… But it would be extremely dangerous,” he continued, as if the last minute’s silence hadn’t occurred, “especially at first, when you don’t know what you’re doing. Who knows what’s going to be there when you step through? Could be a wall, a lake, a person …” We shuddered.

“If you manage it, make sure you come to our 20 year college reunion,” I joked.

Daniel’s first experience of weed didn’t end well. After puking up in my bathroom he left. But he seemed kinda satisfied anyway.

Learning to Walk

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.

Matthew Grant is in his senior year in college, majoring in biology. His high school claim to fame was skateboard dancing at the prom. Voted Most Likely to Be Abducted By Aliens, Mr. Grant’s year book comments include: “Man, you know like, man, just – wow!” and “I can’t believe I still like you after you dumped me, twice.”

Attracted to the weird and fantastic since childhood, J. J. Green feeds her addiction by writing about the frontiers of scientific exploration and beyond. Her work has been published in SFGate, Opposing Views, Global Science,, Seattle P-I, Modern Mom, Dark Tide Writers’ Magazine, Metro Moms, Piker Press, and other publications. Living in Taiwan has also given her endless opportunities to amuse the locals by attempting to learn Chinese. Check out her meanderings at

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at

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That Man Behind the Curtain: May 2014

This has been an unusual month, so let’s see what the numbers look like.

The Money Aspect

Amounts in parentheses are losses/expenses.

Hosting: ($17.06)
Stories: ($498.00)
Art: ($313.93)
Advertising: ($52.00)
Paypal Fees: ($0.43)
Donations: $40.00
Ad Revenue: $1.14
Book Sales: $14.19
Total: ($826.09)
QTD: ($1,168.21)
YTD: $858.29
All Time: ($6,654.28)

As per usual, I try to list costs for art and stories under the month that the stories run on the site rather than when I pay them. I also cover Paypal expenses when paying authors and artists.

One of the interesting things for this month is that we did a crossover thing with Kerberos Productions. They were Kickstarting their new game, Kaiju-a-Gogo. We’re always excited when someone seeks us out to participate with something fun. In the interest of full disclosure: they offered to pay us, but we declined. It was something we would have done for free anyway, so it felt weird asking for money. One of the producers ended up donating money to us anyway. I’m not too proud to accept it.


In May, we received 27 regular submissions, 8 of which are exclusives for the special call. Since the submission period hasn’t ended for the special call, I won’t include that in this month’s percentages. Of the 19 regular submissions, we accepted 8 (42%). It appears that as we’ve gotten more visibility, we’ve ended up with more submissions, but less submissions that we accept. Our all-time acceptance rate is now at 53.76%.

This gives us enough content for the site through early March 2015.

Social Media/Mailing List

I thought I’d include a new section this month. We have a lot of avenues where we try to make news of new stories available, and it’s always a little exciting to see them grow. Here are the numbers as of May 31st.

Facebook: 826
Twitter: 271
Google+: 37
Tumblr: 21
Mailing List: 18

The big takeaway is that it is stupid easy to advertise on Facebook. Twitter is finally catching up. The rest I haven’t taken the time to figure out.


We’ve had an interesting increase in traffic. With the Kickstarter done, I figured that our traffic would actually drop. I’m guessing the money spent on advertising through Twitter has paid off. We had a total of 1,888 visits. Our traffic consisted of 1,222 users and 3,552 page views. Our highest daily traffic was 151.

Also, the changing terminology that Google Analytics uses kinda drives me nuts.

May’s search engine phrase of the month is “strategy of avoidance.” It’s a useful skill for mad scientists.

That’s all for this month.

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Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 Now Available!

MSJ Spring 2014We’re happy to announce that our Spring 2014 collection is now available. There were snags with the Smashwords distribution, so it hasn’t appeared at a few stores yet. But it is available on AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & NobleiBookstoreVersantInkteraScribd!

We hope you enjoy this collection.

(Edited post to add a markets.)

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The Sight

An essay by Barney Whelan, as told to Maureen Bowden, for the ESP and  Clairvoyance Investigation Registry
Art by Katie Nyborg

It was 1957 and my thirty-sixth birthday when I met John, and saw his death in his eyes. I’d been busking outside the Liverpool Empire that morning and I’d done okay: made enough for a packet of Woodbines, and a plate of egg ‘n’ chips in Lime Street Station café. He caught me staring at him, stared back, and headed over to my table with a bottle of coca cola and a bacon butty.

“Mind if I sit here, mate?”

“Free country, son.” The place was half empty. He could have sat anywhere, but from the way he looked at me I could tell he knew I had the Sight. He had a touch of it himself.

“I’m John.” He dumped his coke and his butty on the table.

“Barney,” I said. “Barney Whelan.”

He screwed up his straw, took a slurp straight out of the bottle, and glanced at the clarinet case lying on the floor alongside my crutch. “I’ve seen you buskin’ in town. You’re good.”


He was about seventeen; blue jeans, black tee-shirt under an open-necked red checked shirt, with the collar turned up; Teddy-boy haircut: like a million other kids, trying to be different, all looking the same. I dunked a chip in my egg-yolk, trying not to look in his eyes. It hurt too much.

The Sight

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.


‘Stardust’ (1927), Hoagy Carmichael / Mitchell Parish, Gennet Records, Richmond, Indiana, USA.

Barnie Whelan was a Liverpudlian and a World War II veteran. Since his childhood he had the ability to see a person’s future in their eyes. He spent the last twenty years of his life, courtesy of an anonymous donor, in Springfield Private Nursing Home, Liverpool. It was there that Maureen Bowden interviewed him in March 2013.

Barnie died on December 8, 2013, three months after his ninety-third birthday.

Maureen Bowden is an ex-patriate Liverpudlian living with her musician husband on the island of Anglesey, off the coast of North Wales, where they try in vain to evade the onslaught of their children and grandchildren. She writes for fun and she has had several poems and short stories published. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in Folk clubs throughout England and Wales.

She loves her family and friends, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shakespeare, and cats.

Katie Nyborg’s art, plus information regarding hiring her, can be found at

This story originally appeared in Flash Fiction World in July 2012.

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Ten Days Left for Submissions

Just a friendly reminder that on June 20th, our special call for submissions ends. It is also when we will close to all submissions for over a month. If you’d like to submit, now is a great time. Check out our Submissions page for more details!

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Incident at the Faerie Festival

An essay by Mel Dickson, as provided by Pathos
Art by Luke Spooner

I was surprisingly calm the morning before the incident. One would assume that on the eve of assisting in such an insidious plot, one would feel butterflies, but actually I was relatively tranquil. It was almost as if my brain had shut off my adrenal gland as an extreme coping mechanism to save me the anxiety of participating in acts of questionable legality.

The only reason I was even working for Professor Gibbs as a “live-in” was because I was still on probation for cannabis abuse as well as driving under the influence of an inebriating substance. And now that I was eighteen, it was either the streets, a halfway house full of smelly, greasy, unsavory ex-cons, or an arrangement such as this.

I got dressed without even considering using my upstairs shower. Professor Gibbs was obsessed, currently, with creating aerosol sprays or completely vaporizing liquids into gas. Yesterday’s shower had yielded an unexpected encounter with the former, where instead of hot water I was greeted with a putrid mixture of phenol and ethanol, which hissed from the shower head like cyanide from a Nazi gas chamber. The professor informed me that he was testing a solution that would make the process of showering faster and more efficient by combining a germicide with a fast drying sterilizing agent, therefore providing a thorough cleansing and negating the necessity of towels. I had informed him he was full of crap, and he even admitted his own failure to take hair and shampoo into consideration. I didn’t want to see if he’d enhanced the formula to accommodate the oversight.

I always find it funny how human beings are so often contradictions of themselves. Take Anthony Gibbs for example: he had an IQ that was through the roof, but resorted to using it for extremely petty purposes, so immature they even made me blush. Most recently he’d tried to vaporize a strain of Hepatitis B in a high school locker room right before a football game. Fortunately the project had mostly failed. The only consequence was that the teenager accused of setting off the explosion was now doing five to eight years at a juvenile detention facility. While Gibbs claimed he was doing a “sting” to show the media that the Hepatitis B vaccine given to teenagers was ineffective, the true reason, I believe, was his anger at the team’s defense employing an eleven man rush against teams with below average quarterbacks. The pre-game incident had cost them a shot at the state championship, because they had to forfeit the game that they would have needed to win to get there.

Then there was the time Gibbs had lost fifty dollars to a man because the guy completed a course of Frisbee Golf under par throwing the Frisbee overhand, a feat that the professor claimed “defied the laws of classical physics.” Gibbs had paid up, but less than a week later, the man was hospitalized because he had mysteriously contracted anthrax. I include these incidents solely as documentation that what happened at the Faerie Festival was no isolated incident.

The method to enter behind the false wall into the secret underground basement that Gibbs himself had constructed was appropriately absurd. First you had to remove the book, “Quantum Mechanics for Dummies,” from the bookshelf, then press and hold middle C on the nearby grand piano while simultaneously flicking the hall light switch nine times. Then you had to give the round table a quarter turn, adjust the painting of Nolan Bushnell, and return the book to its proper place in the bookshelf. Finally the wall panel would slide out, and it would close automatically upon descending the staircase leading to the basement. The method for re-entering the house was equally elaborate.

As my shoes landed against the concrete stairs that led down a narrow corridor into Gibbs’s scientific hideout, the echoes of my footfalls bouncing through the winding stairwell were soon drowned out by a grandiose symphony presumably emanating from Gibbs’s second grand piano downstairs. The melody banged with urgent fervor, then softened into a delicate whimsy. The professor never missed a note.

He rose from his seat as he perceived my approach. He had a lurking, rigid posture, where his tall, thin frame seemed to stiffen like a telephone pole, often with his hands interlocked behind his back. He looked at me above his reading glasses, which were expertly balanced at the tip of his hawk-like nose. This manner I always considered condescending. It often made me want to break something valuable. He smiled in a very forced, calculated way.

“Good morning, Mel,” he greeted me. “We have a lot of preparations to do, as I am sure you are aware.”

Of course I was aware. Stupid jerk always feigning cordiality.

“By the way, that was a new composition I just was practicing. Mozart. What do you think?”

“Nobody tickles the ivories like you, sir.” I met him with a wide grin.

Our current “plot”–well, according to Gibbs it was an experiment–was to see if sound amplifiers could vaporize a liquid into a gas. Tomorrow was the last day of the Faerie Festival, and Gibbs had chosen the grand finale, a concert by the festival’s marquee band that would be attended by hundreds, as the venue to test his hypothesis. His claim was that he was attempting to make the fairgrounds smell like horseradish with his formula. I had figured out weeks ago that, as usual, there was a more diabolical scheme twisted within the nefarious cortex of the man.

I became suspicious when Professor Gibbs had pitched the idea, because he always had some ulterior motive. My suspicions were validated when I realized that the network of fans and tubes he would have to run through the sound amplifier rendered the amplifier itself pretty much useless in causing his formula to vaporize. In fact, the schematic he drew up almost made it look like we were bypassing the amplifiers completely, relying on more proven methods of ventilating fumes. So then what was the true purpose of making almost an acre of land reek of horseradish?

Incident at the Faerie Festival

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.

Mel Dickson (b. Melchezedik Edwardus Gibbs, Oct. 2, 1994) is currently living with Sheriff Frank Miller in Bend, Oregon. He is a student at a junior college, and is majoring in biologically hazardous waste production and distribution.

Pathos is a shadow.  He has had stories previously published in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine and on

Luke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at

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